Hopgood’s Foodliner

•February 25, 2014 • Leave a Comment

A while back now I took a couple friends out for their birthdays (instead of traditional gifts I usually take my friends out for a nice dinner… it’s more or less an excuse for me to go out and splurge on a meal). And on this occasion, splurge we did.  We made our way out to Hopgood’s Foodliner in Roncy and prepared for a feast.  We ordered a round of cocktails and then got into the food.  To start was had the Oysters, PEI and Nova Scotia varieties.


Fresh, briny, meaty and delicious.  I love a good oyster.  Next we had the Potted shrimp under butter on fancy bread.


It’s a pretty thick and hard layer of butter to get through but once through, the shrimp with the butter on the toast, so good! Butter and shellfish is always a good combination.  Next was the Smoked mackerel on oatcakes topped with a cream cheese texture but ranch like tasting spread.


The oatcake was like a better tasting triscuit.  Not as solid but still strong enough to hold together for multiple bites.  The spread and the mackerel blended really well and the dill added a nice refreshing flavor to the smoky mackerel. Next was the Albacore tuna with Vicki’s heirloom tomatoes.


I love fresh tuna and mixed with the sweet tomatoes, this was just awesome.  Next was the Hot crab dip and triscuits.


This was one of my favorite dishes of the evening.  I think I’m more partial to crab dip in general but this is definitely one of the better ones I’ve had in my life. I had a nice texture, crunchy and creamy and its was loaded with crab meat.  Next were the Salmon croquettes and cream cheese.


I normally find salmon on the heavier side (which I don’t have a problem with) but maybe through the magic of deep frying (and yes, it is a magical thing) it became less heavy.  I’m a big fan of the crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside type of texture so this was really satisfying for me.  Next were the Lobster nuggets, lightly deep fried with a chilli mayo like sauce.


This was the hit of the night. In fact after the first bite we tried to flag down the waitress to order another one but they sold out. I loved everything about this.  The crunchy texture, the buttery lobster meat, the creaminess of the mayo was just a little kick.  This may actually be one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.  Holy smokes I’m salivating now just writing about this. It was a special they had for the evening but if it ever makes the regular menu I’ll be back regularly just for this.  Next was the Charred octopus, pork sausage, potatoes and Romesco sauce.


I’m normally weary of ordering octopus since it usually comes out rubbery.  This was anything but.  Nice charred flavor with a nice warm, soft bite into the octopus meat. The potatoes were also charred and had a nice carmlization on it. It’s like breakfast potatoes that get burnt on the griddle.  The slightly burnt ones are the best. The Romesco sauce, a perfect compliment to everything above.  Next were the Digby scallops, roasted beets and walnuts.


I really like scallops so this was already a win for me.  Scallops were cooked perfectly and the blend of bold flavors was just amazing.  We were told a must have were the Halifax donairs.


Now I’ve been to pizza corner in Halifax and this is like a Halifax donair on steroids. Just better quality meat and veggies but still that traditional and totally unhealthy sweet garlic sauce.  This was really good but a part of me feels like dirty street food should be just that, dirty street food.  This fancied up version, although incredibly tasty and delicious leaves me a little unsettled as a man who loves to eat. I would eat it again though since Halifax donairs are rare in this city.  To finish we had the Chocolate bar.


Toffee, crispy dark chocolate wrapped up nicely with a bow.  This was fantastic. Now I’m normally not a dessert/sweets guy but even I had to go back for a couple more bites. This may be one of the best chocolate bars I’ve ever had. I loved the crunchy toffee and the richness of the chocolate. This was just quality all around.


Our experience at Hopgood’s foodliner was fantastic. Every dish (and we had a lot of them between the 3 of us, that’s right there were three of us eating all this food) was delicious. It was hard coming out and saying which was the best since they were all so good. It did a number on my pocketbook especially since we had more than a few of the fancy cocktails but it was worth it for a special occasion.


Beast for Brunch – Indulgent and Gluttonous

•August 25, 2013 • Leave a Comment

A few friends and I decided to grab brunch at Beast, a small converted home with delicious meat-centric dishes.

We started with a round of Caesars ($5 per drink, not bad) and a couple of Rachelle’s donuts.  We had their signature maple bacon donut (below on the right) and the s’more donut (below on the left).


The maple bacon donut was excellent.  It had the savouriness of the bacon balanced nicely but the sweetness of the maple.  The donut dough was good.  Not as good as a Krispy Kreme fresh out of the fryer but better than a Tim Horton’s donut.

Below is the huervos rancheros with corn tortillas, chorizo, bean salad, avocado puree, tomato -red chile sauce, sheep’s milk feta, two sunny side up eggs and house potatoes.


I didn’t try this but my friend seemed to enjoy it and she has a pretty high standard for breakfast food.  I tried some of the tomato-red chile sauce.  Pretty flavourful and I would imagine with the cheese, chorizo and eggs it pops.

Below is the corned beef tongue scramble with semi-cured tomatoes, gruyere, garlic scape pesto with a buttermilk biscuit and potatoes.


The tomatoes add an interesting tartness to the bouncy eggs and savoury beef chunks.  Overall, it was a pretty standard scramble.  The biscuit was nice and buttery and adding the hot sauces and house made ketchup (all three of which were awesome) added a needed kick.

Below is the crispy pork hocks tossed in keycap manis and served with kimchi, two eggs, toast and house potatoes.


Now this was a tasty dish.  As a single bite, it was probably the tastiest thing we ate and probably one of the tastiest things I’ve biten into in a while.  The hocks are crispy, savoury, and full of fatty flavor.  The texture is complex with a nice crunch on the outside and buttery, meaty inside.  The sauce underneath was sweet, balancing the saltiness of the hock.  The kimchi adds a nice spiciness and the eggs round out the rest of the dish.

Below is the beastwich, a buttermilk biscuit barely able to hold the fried chicken thigh, pimento cheese, a fried egg smothered in pork sausage gravy and served with house potatoes.


This dish was the highlight of the meal for us.  The chicken was crisp, well seaonsoned  and juicy on the inside.  A perfect piece of fried chicken.  The pork gravy is rich and packed with flavor (I would drink this stuff if it wouldn’t kill me).  Mixed all together with the buttery biscuit and fried egg, each bite was an overindulgent heart-attack-in-a-bite.  Sooo tasty.  Throw on some of the vinegary hot sauce, perfecto!

The meal was served with a variety of condiments, two types of hot sauce and a house made ketchup.


The bottle on the left is a smoky hot sauce.  It went really well with the eggs and potatoes.  The middle hot sauce was more on the vinegary side and went really well with the fried chicken.  The ketchup, house made, is a little on the sweeter side with a hint of smoke.

Now breakfast and brunch food usually isn’t the healthiest of meals but Beast takes gluttony to a whole new level…and I like it.


Brava Bistro (Calgary)

•August 18, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I was recently on a trip home visiting my family and took them out for dinner.  The restaurant scene has evolved to a whole new level in Calgary so when I Google, “best restaurants in Calgary”….a ton of amazing places show up.  One of the places that came up was Brava Bistro.  The menu looked good.  So why not dive in?

To start, we tried three appetizers.  The first was the Lobster Gnocchi, a potato and egg gnocchi with peas, carrots, and a shellfish butter sauce.

The gnocchi was light and pillowy.  It had a nice texture: chewy and soft.  The gnocchi was nicely contrasted by the firm but well cooked veggies and the sauce was nice, light and tasty.  Light and tasty don’t always go together but as an app, this really worked.  Next we tried the mussels with leeks that was topped with a white wine and cream sauce, pomme frites and, aioli.
I think was the unanimous favourite amongst the apps.  The sauce was rich but relatively light.  How can you pack so much flavour with such a light sauce?  The mussels were fresh and meaty.  The fries were perfectly crisped and the aioli was like a super-rich-garlic-mayo.  The contrast between the super rich aioli and crisp fries was a great contrast to the soft mussels and velvety sauce.  Next were the Seared Scallops served with spinach, crispy leeks, warm truffle vichyssoise, and chives.
The scallops were a little on small side but they simply seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked nicely.  Nothing to rave about but well executed.  The spinach and truffle were good.  Again, nothing to rave about but well executed.
The first main was the Spicy Bacon Rigatoni the had bacon, garlic, jalapeño, tomato, extra virgin olive oil, parmesan and parsley.
The pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente.  The sauce had a nice heat from the spice and the tomatoes weren’t overly tart or saucy.  As far as pastas go, some would say it was on the dry side due to the lack of sauce but it was so rich with flavour from the bacon and jalapeño, it didn’t need it.  The parsley added a nice freshness but it kind of got lost in the richness of the other ingredients.
Next we tried the Crispy Cracklin Chicken.  The chicken was pan roasted with scallion mashed potatoes, buttered carrots, and white wine chicken jus.
The chicken was juicy and perfectly cooked.  The skin was crispy and spiced to perfection.  The mash was nice but what really grabbed my attention was the jus.  Mixed with the chicken…awesome!  The jus had a nice very spice blend to it.  It had some five spice, my mother said some nutmeg, but at the end of the day, whatever it was, it was unique and great.  The chicken was crispy on the outside and moist in the white meat.  The mash soaked up the very tasty sauce.  All taken together, one of the better chickens I’ve had at a fancy bistro.
Next we tried the BBQ pork shoulder.  It was Guinness-braised, covered with BBQ sauce and topped over perogies and savoy cabbage.
The outside was rich and nicely spiced.  Wow!  Welcome to flavour country.  The perogies were crisp on the outside and nicely potato-ey on the inside.  It all mixed really well together.  Execution, once again, very well done.
The last main we had was the Spring Creek Ranch Beef Short Rib served with roasted garlic cheese curd mash potatoes, spinach topped with a cabernet jus.
The short rib was super tender and the vegetables were cooked a perfect al dente.  The gravy was nice.  The meat was fatty and full of beefy goodness.  The greens added a nice balance but really, no amount of greens could overpower the beef…sweet sweet beef.
We could barely fit in dessert but we tried the Salted Caramel Panna Cotta with apple crumble and fresh apples.
What a great combination.  Salty, sweet, crunchy buttery crumble, smooth soft panna cotta and fresh apples.  Other than saying it all melded perfectly together I think the words speak for themselves.
So the website I read ranked this restaurant in the top 10 in Calgary.  Now I know there are a lot of new places in town but from the places I’ve eaten in town over the past several decades, I would have to agree.  This place is place is pretty damn good.

Harlem… good for any meal of the day

•July 30, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I’m a huge fan of southern food.  Bold flavours, spicy, meaty and deep fried. What’s not to love?  There seems to be a growing BBQ trend in this city but there is a tried and true place downtown that has been serving up southern favourites for years, Harlem.  And it’s good for all meals of the day.

Brunch.  This is the Harlem Benny.  Poached eggs, garlic collards, sausage patty, a top grit cakes with spicy hollandaise with a side spinach salad with a light vinaigrette.  There are also some random side vegetables.

Lunch.  Corn bread.  Fresh and delicious.

The Harlem sammy.  A grilled three layer sammy of black forest ham, jerked chicken salad, avocado, mango mustard and two types of cheese on challah bread.  The jerk spices give it a lively kick and the cheese and sauces balance the kick with nice smooth flavour.  It’s a meaty sandwich was fantastic bread.  Winning!

Roasted Jerk Chicken sammy.  Served with fried plantains, monterey jack cheese, scotch-bonet mayo served on toasted coco bread.  I have to admit, I was sweating a little while eating this sandwich.  The bread is interesting.  It’s light and tasty and doesn’t take anything away from the main show, the jerk chicken.

Dinner.  This must be one of the best values in the city.  Try the prix fix.  You basically get to try everything on the menu.

Spinach, Mandarin and goat cheese salad with toasted almonds topped with a balsamic mango vinaigrette.  Very healthy and refreshing.  The goat cheese gives a creamy taste contrasting the oranges and almonds.  There’s a lot going on and I love it.

Harlem Crisps served with avocado ginger hummus and a spiced walnut pate.  The crisps are nice.  A very nice way of delivering the spread to the mouth.

Catfish lafayette.  Deep fried morsels doused in a sweet chili hot sauce.  These are very addictive.  Sweet, spicy and savoury.  The fish is light and fluffy once you get through the lovely, crisp, deep fried layers.

Jerk chicken quesadillas with spicy coconut honey and greens.  Like all the other jerk items on the menu, this is delightfully spicy and the cheesiness just adds more goodness.

Jambalaya…enough said.

Mac-n-cheese.  Pretty standard mac and cheese.  Compared to others in the city (Weezie’s and Prohibition) it’s meh.  But those other ones are pretty amazing so the bar is set pretty high.

Southern fried chicken.  They put corn flakes in the batter.  It adds a very prominent *CRUNCH* and a nice sweetness to the already juicy and succulent chicken.

Blackend catfish served with shrimp and crab étouffée.  Rich sauce with light and incredibly tasty fish.  This is one of my only life experiences with blackened anything.  It makes me wonder, why don’t we blackened spices on more things?

Bold flavours, sweat inducing spice, rich and flavourful….everything!  Oh man, why don’t I go here more often?


Porchetta and Co.

•June 10, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Several years ago there was a rumour running around the city.  There is a sandwich made from pork, wrapped in pork, wrapped in pork… I think I fainted as soon as I heard it.  Then I sought to eat this sandwich.

The porchetta sandwich at Porchetta and Co is a marinated pork shoulder in a medley of spices including rosemary, sage, garlic oil and lemon zest.  The shoulder is wrapped in prosciutto and then wrapped in cured pork belly.  The creation is roasted at 400 F for half an hour to give a nice crust and it is slow cooked for several hours.  The meat is cut and put on a Caldense Bakery sourdough bun.

You can get the plain sandwich or have it with truffle sauce, parmesan, grainy mustard and hot sauce.  Truffle sauce you say?  That’s the Jeopardy answer to “This makes all food awesome.”

Above is the open sandwich.  Below is the completed sandwich.

The sandwich is small but packed with flavour.  The meat is crispy, salty and oh so porky.  The mustard, truffles and hot sauce add unbelievable depth of flavour and the bun….I’ve only had a better sandwich bun at the Black Camel.  This sandwich is A+.


Bar Isabel – GVG you did it again!

•May 31, 2013 • 1 Comment

Ever since he left the Black Hoof, many have awaited the day Grant van Gameren would open up his own place and grace us with the mind blowing flavours he had teased us with many years ago.  He had done stints at a few places where we saw hints of the van Gameren flare but now with the opening of Bar Isabel, we get the full blown experience.


The space has a comfortable, warm, and has almost a Spanish family tavern kind of feel to it.  The colorful tile floor, red lighting, and wood paneling takes you out of southern Ontario and into southern Spain.


The cocktail list is short but each combination looks delicious (except maybe the absinthe, I had few “interesting” experiences).  I tried the daily special, the Spruce Tip Spring Thing.


It’s a spruce infused whiskey, with juice, cointreau, and a mint syrup they make in house.  It was very refreshing and a perfect fit for the rich flavors we were about to experience.  My buddy had the Isabel Fashioned.


It’s basically a take on an old fashion but with different twists like bacon sugar.  Quite good with a heavy presence of orange zest to make it a little fruitier.  To start we tried the devilled eggs, salt cod, morcilla and hollandaise.


Very tasty.  Smooth texture; warm, salty inside; and buttery hollandaise.  It’s a very little egg but packs a lot of flavour.  Next we had the chicken wings escabeche.


It was supposed to come with four but we got six.  Nice bonus considering they are super tasty.  The meat is VERY juicy and moist.  The sauce is sweet and savoury.  It’s simply a good chicken wing.  It’s hard not to think of Duff’s down the street and compare.  Not really an apples to apples comparison but both are excellent in their own right.  Next we had the tongue on brioche.


The very first time I had this at the Black Hoof many years ago, I reacted much the same way I did taking my first bite into this.  HOLY SMOKES!  This is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.  A flood of memories from all the great deli sandwiches came to mind and only one even comes close, Katz in New York.  I know a lot of people will hate me for saying this, but this could be better.  The mustard on the side is a nice addition.  It’s more of a jam than a mustard since it’s nicely sweetened. We saw a number of tables ordering them after and each time we considered ordering another one for the table.  I could eat this sandwich every day.  Next we had to Caterina Bay Scallops, Spanish blood sausage, porcini and wild asparagus.


The blood sausage is nicely spiced, Earthy and counters the buttery mushrooms and scallops well.  The scallops are small but cooked to perfection.  The greens add a nice balance as well.  Next was the octopus, chorizo and stewed peppers.


Now I am usually reluctant to order octopus since it’s usually overcooked and rubbery.  After taking my first bite, I wanted to applaud the kitchen.  Perfecto!  Great texture and great charred flavour.  The chorizo was delicious, spicy and the saltiness is nicely balanced by the sweet peppers and possibly the sweetest onion I’ve ever tasted.  Put the octopus, sausage and peppers on to one bite and it will blow your mind.  Next was the fried chicken and sticky eggplant.


The chicken was boneless which made it very easy to eat.  The chicken batter was well spiced and wonderfully crispy.  The chicken wasn’t oily but juicy and moist.  The chicken is well balanced with the sweet, sticky sauced eggplant and greens.  The sweet sauce (with a chilli pepper kick) actually tasted really good with the chicken when it spilled over.  There was a also a slight mix up with our order so they gave us a complimentary beer.  It was a local craft wheat beer that actually went really well with the chicken.


We also ordered dessert, a buttermilk panna cotta, celery with buckwheat crumble.


This is a surprise from bite one.  The panna cotta is light, smooth and very refreshing.  The celery flavour, which is actually more prominent that one would think, actually works well.  The crumble reminds me of graham crackers.  A great way to finish off a great meal.

I was a big fan of the Black Hoof at inception.  I loved the interesting twists on Italian food at Enoteca Sociale.  GVG, with Bar Isabel, you did it again!  Keep it coming and I’ll keep eating it!


New Orleans (Guy’s Trip 2013)

•May 26, 2013 • Leave a Comment

So it’s been quite a while since I’ve written on this.  It’s not for lack of good eating. I guess it was more of life getting in the way, lack of motivation and general laziness. I was reminded recently why I started this in the first place.  It was originally started as a reference point for family and friends.  If there was ever an instance they were curious as to where to find good sushi, a fancy sandwich or solid steakhouse they could find at least one (hopefully trustworthy) opinion from someone who REALLY likes eating.  So I’m going to try get back into this and update this more regularly.  It’s also a way for me to relive some of my favourite meals.

So a group of my guy friends from university take a trip together every year. It was a way for us to make sure we kept in touch and it was a pre-approved trip away from the wives/girlfriends (sorry ladies, you know I love you).  This year we went to New Orleans and ate some of the most tasty food I’ve ever had.  I’ll try to keep the commentary short since there is a lot of food.

Our first meal was at Central Grocery in the French Quarter.  It’s an Italian grocery store with a well oiled (both figurative and literal) sandwich operation going on in the back.  The sandwich to get here is the Muffulleta.


First off, it’s quite large.  I think they are designed to be shared by at least two people.  But if you can eat a whole one…kudos.


So the Muffuletta  is a mix of Italian deli meats, cheese and a olive salad type thing that is quite potent.  If you don’t like olives you won’t like this sandwich.  It’s a good thing I like olives.  As for taste, it’s a little on the salty and oily side.  I thought it was delicious though.  I needed a drink after but it satisfied this craving for Italian deli meats I’ve been having lately.  Next we went to Cafe du Monde for beignets.


So a friend of mine warned we before going to this place not to wear black.  Should have taken her advice.  I was wearing black shorts and was covered in white powdered sugar after the first bite.  These donut-like pastries come out piping hot, wonderfully doughy but light, and powdered-sugar-sweet (not scrunch your face sweet, but rather the “oh man I want some more” kind of sweet).

That night we went to Acme Oyster House.  It’s one of those famous seafood places with a line up outside the door.  We met this nice couple in line who told us to get the chargrilled oysters.


And WOW were they right.  This is one of the best things we ate.  Fresh oysters covered in cheese and butter.  After were polished these off, I wanted to suck the rest of the sauce down.  We also tried a few other dishes.  Next to come out was the crawfish.


I’ve always had a bit of a problem with shell fish in general.  I think it’s because it’s a lot of work to get to the meat.  I’m not quite sure if it’s worth the effort.  I even watched a youtube video before going down in preparation.  It was tasty once you got to the meat but I’m going to have to improve my crawfish extracting abilities before I think I can fully enjoy these.  We also tried a small order of the Jambalaya.


Very tasty.  Bold flavours but nothing to write home about.  Next was the étouffée.


Now this was a tasty dish.  Lots of seafood.  Lot’s of sauce.  Lovely cajun flavours.  This is what New Orleans tasted like in my mind before going.  The last thing we tried was the fried crawfish.


Kind of reminded me of popcorn shrimp.  Crunchy, tasty side sauce, bouncy meat…no complaints from me.

The next day we caught a cab out to Domilise’s, a famous Po’boy sandwich place.


It was lined up outside the door at 2 in the afternoon.  My first thought, “these better be good”.  I think the fact that I was hung over and standing in the hot sun didn’t help my mood but let me tell you, it was worth the wait.


We got the shrimp po’boy with gravy.  The gravy addition was a suggestion from another patron in line.  Man was he right.  The shrimp was fantastic and there was a TON of it.  You can see it falling out of the sandwich.  We also tried the fried catfish.


This was extremely good too.  It was a little easier to eat than the shrimp but I think the general consensus around the table was that the shrimp tasted better.  There were no complaints about the fish though.  It’s just varying levels of awesomeness.  We also tried the roast beef, which I read is the original po’boy ingredient.


The beef was good.  The gravy was awesome.  The bread used in all the sandwiches is phenomenal. A great roast beef sandwich as far as roast beef sandwiches go but the shrimp and catfish were in a league of their own.

That night we tried a place called “The Joint”.  I think this was featured on a food network show I saw once.  The people in town also referred to it as the only place to get good BBQ in the city.


So to me, this is the hallmark of a good BBQ place.  When I walked up to the counter, I started rattling off our order and was stopped by the cashier with an abrupt, “Nope”.  I was perplexed and then she said, “we are sold out of the ribs, the chicken, and might have one or two orders of brisket.”  She quickly checked with the kitchen and came back saying they only had half a rack of ribs left, only a quarter chicken left, but enough brisket, sausage and pulled pork to fill our order.  So I proceeded to clean them out of whatever meat I could. We also ordered side of mac and cheese, coleslaw, potato salad and baked beans.


So the ribs were the best part of the meal.  The ribs fell off the bone, had a wonderful smoky flavour and were seasoned to perfection.  These are some of the best ribs I’ve ever had.  The baked beans were also amazing!  They had a familiar smoky flavour, brown sugar sweetness and hints of pork (I think there was bacon in it).


The chicken was good.  Nicely seasoned but a little on the dry side.  They provide multiple types of BBQ sauce at the table however so this wasn’t an issue.  The pulled pork was tasty.  Nothing special but solid.  The mac and cheese was pretty standard. Cheesy and not overcooked which was nice.


The brisket was seasoned well and very tender.  They give you a LOT of it too.  Actually same with the pulled pork.  We couldn’t even finish those, despite our best efforts (and this is an impressive effort coming from 5 hungry dudes).  The sausage was good.  Nicely spiced and cooked perfectly.  The coleslaw was crisp and refreshing.  The potato salad was good.  Not spectacular like some of the dishes but again we are dealing with varying levels of awesomeness.

The next day we went to Luke for oyster happy hour.


So these might be some of the best oysters I’ve ever had.  Fresh, briny, huge and incredibly cheap.  50 cents an oyster!  We actually went to this place twice.  Both times getting a dozen each.  Check out the bill.


Crazy cheap!  I love America!  Our last meal was at a place called Coop’s.  We had to wait an hour in line to get into this place so we were starving by the time we got in.  We all ended up ordering the same thing, fried chicken with sides of coleslaw and jambalaya.


This ranks up there as some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had.  Succulent, juicy, crispy, hot, and I loved the spice blend in the batter.  A number of cajun spices but there was something else in there that I can’t put my finger on that made it amazing!  The other standout was the jambalaya.  I’ll come straight out and say, this is the best jambalaya I’ve ever had.  It was a rabbit and sausage mix and had so much flavour I got weak in the knees.  It was one of those blissed out food moments that changes your life.  Man, that was fantastic!

The food in New Orleans is amazing and we didn’t even get to eat our way through all of it.  I like to think we got a pretty good cross section of the food but I would definitely make another trip back to try some more.  As for the night life, there is great music everywhere you look and tons of friendly party-goers to mingle with.  If there is a word of caution I have for visiting, it’s be careful with a drink referred to as the “Hand Grenade”.  It’s much more potent than it looks.